Gina had a long while to look around the dimly lit room after she had broken in. Enzo’s bedroom was decorated with lavish, heavy furniture out of dark wood. She could see from the patina that it was old, though well-kept. It all exuded wealth, but besides that, the room was stripped of personality. The paintings on the wall were generic still-life images and landscapes. The colour scheme didn’t suit the man who inhabited the room, either, and seemed more like it had been chosen to look opulent, rather than stylish.
It wasn’t a very nice room and she suspected the rest of the house was much the same. However much she had ragged on the Napoletani residence, at least it had felt like a home. The tacked on corridors and rooms were placed with love, if not with logic. This felt like a mausoleum for the living.
Appropriately enough, when the door swung open to admit Enzo, she for a second thought he looked like one of the living dead. It was only offset a little by the healthy blush that coloured his cheeks once he set eyes on her. He closed the door quickly and turned to her.
“I let myself in,” she said. “Sorry about that.”
“It’s all right. I suppose I can expect that kind of thing when I invite a criminal into my home.”
She smiled and shrugged, but he could only muster a small, careful smile in return.
“How are you holding up?” she asked, purely out of curtesy.
From his pale skin and tired eyes, she could deduce everything she needed to about how he felt. This, in a way, was a good thing. She could see that he couldn’t even hold up his façade any longer. He talked. Now that he let it out, it seemed to all come in a stream:
“I admit, I’ve been better,” he said. “My sister’s fiancé visited to remind me of the painting, as if I could forget. As for my sister, her and I are not on speaking terms. Lorenzo is ignoring me as well and I don’t take it that you know anything more about the painting.”
“No, unfortunately not,” she said. “But I have my people in Monte Vista rounding up Leoni again.”
He nodded tersely and ran a hand over his face.
“Do you mind if I change? This clothing is driving me insane.” He tugged at the collar of his shirt to illustrate what he meant.
Gina turned to give him a moment of privacy, taking the chance to study one of the paintings while he changed. It was a landscape, painted in a very typical style bordering on impressionism, but not quite with the same kind of liveliness as a Monet or Renoir. There was a French name, F. Desjardins, in the corner. Behind her, she heard Enzo say:
“That’s painted by my great-grandfather. Nothing impressive, I’m afraid.”
“You’ve got some French blood, then?”
“Yes, my mother’s French. I speak the language fluently, though I’ve been told my accent is like nails on a chalkboard.”
She heard him chuckle, and then he said a few sentences. Gina barely understood any of it.
“Sounds good enough to me,” she said. “But then I used to skip French lessons to drink and break into places.”
He let out a soft chuckle. “What a surprise. You can turn around—I’m decent.”
Enzo had changed into a soft, dark blue T-shirt and jeans. He looked many times more comfortable, and more human. Following her eyes to his clothes, he said:
“I usually wear proper attire around my family and then I change when I’m alone.”
Gina wasn’t sure what to say to that. She tried imagining a world in which you couldn’t wear jeans and a T-shirt around family, but then her family was pretty different. It wasn’t unusual for her to lounge around in a robe around her dad. Enzo didn’t remark on her silence. He looked away and said:
“I suppose you want to talk about…”
“Yeah, that would be nice.”
He walked over and collapsed on the bed. Gina motioned with a silent question and when he had nodded in approval, she kicked off her shoes and sat down as well.
“From the top, if you don’t mind,” she said, pulling her knees up to her chin.
Enzo sat cross-legged. In his T-shirt and bare feet, he looked vulnerable. For a long while he sat, hands resting on his ankles and twisting, twisting, twisting, as he thought of how to continue.
“Maybe I should… start with my sister,” he said. “With Lia.”
Gina nodded encouragingly and he went on:
“You already know she’s not keen on Fabrizio, and it was never really part of the plan for her to marry him of all people. She’s pretty and we’re wealthy, so she could pick and choose. Lorenzo is out of the question, but besides that—”
“Why?” Gina asked. “Lorenzo’s rich, right?”
“Nouveau riche. His dad made it big shortly before he was born and most of our circle can’t ignore him, but there’s no way he’s marrying into an old family like ours.”
Enzo nodded in agreement. “Pretty ridiculous, but that’s how we do things. We have such a strong standing in town that it would be a major scandal to let just anyone marry into the family. If I don’t produce an heir, the estate will go to Lia’s children, and that would effectively mean that our estate is owned by the Sartore bloodline, as far as most of us are concerned.”
Gina shuddered at his use of words… to produce an heir was the least inspiring way to talk about having kids she had ever heard. She didn’t say anything, only motioned for him to go on. He did:
“Fortunately for us, most unmarried men in our circles were interested in her. It was actually… honestly, they fought over her at one point.”
“Fucking hell,” Gina said, his words sinking in. “It’s like the painting. They’re treating your sister like a painting.”
Enzo lowered his head. “Yes. The similarity hasn’t escaped my notice.” He curled his hands into fists, so hard the knuckles turned white. “Trust me, if we had any other choice, I would keep Fabrizio at a distance, but…”
“But there’s the blackmail thing. I take it she’s marrying him because of that.”
He nodded. “We pretty much have to do whatever he asks of us, or he’ll… well, I guess that’s the next part.”
Gina straightened up, looking at him intently. For a long time, he sat still, staring at his hands, at the knuckles that grew white and the muscles that twitched painfully from the tension. She reached out and covered one of his hands with hers. The action surprised even herself, but it felt right. It was like she wanted to make him feel better.
“It’s fine. I don’t care,” she said.
“But I did something… bad.”
She shrugged and said: “I’m an art thief, soon to be leader of a gang. Whatever it is, I bet I can find you three people in my gang who’s done something worse. Hell, my own mother definitely did worse. I’m not going to take it to the police or judge you or gossip about it. Go on, Enzo.”
He glanced up at her carefully with surprise in his eyes.
“Enzo… Not going to call me rich boy anymore?”
Gina squeezed his hand and chuckled.
“Well, I can’t promise anything, but I am going to drop the Cavalcante. I feel like I’m breaking five bones in my fucking face every time I say it. Enzo is easier.”
“I appreciate it.”
Electric blue eyes met hers in the dim light from the night stand and her heart did a painful leap in her chest.
Fucking hell, you’re gorgeous. She clamped her jaw shut before the words could spill out, then she hurriedly removed her hand from his with a strained smile. The corner of his mouth pulled up for a second. He had noticed her gawping, she realised.
“Go on,” she said sternly.
Enzo leaned back, and his face returned to a more serious expression.
“Okay then. Lia… it all comes back to Lia. Back when everyone was fighting over her, she liked to… test the waters, so to speak. She couldn’t decide who to get with. Around the time this happened, she was with the youngest son from the Conti family. When she got tired of him and broke it off, he didn’t take it well. He hounded her at every gathering, every function. If she went out with a friend, he would ‘coincidentally’ turn up. It got bad enough that she always had Lorenzo or me with her when going anywhere because he just wouldn’t take the hint.
“I tried talking to Conti’s father, but he wouldn’t hear it. Then I tried talking to my own, to see if he couldn’t figure out some arrangement with them to get him to back off. The only thing father offered was that he could arrange marriage between them.”
“She was supposed to marry her stalker?” Gina asked bitterly.
“I’m afraid so. For obvious reasons, Lia didn’t want to, so I decided the best way to fix it was to talk to Conti myself. I cornered him at a party at our house and had a word with him.”
Now, Gina sensed, he had come to the crux of the matter. When he spoke again, his voice was low and shaky.
“He wasn’t receptive to what I was saying,” he said. “According to him, my sister had been leading him on and he would only go easier on her if she promised to marry him. Now… I could have told him that my sister wouldn’t marry him for anything in the world, but since I’m an idiot… I decided to insult his entire family instead.”
The next part, Enzo told mechanically, as if he were a piece of software reading aloud a manuscript. It sound robotic and as if he had no concept of the words coming out of his mouth. Conti didn’t take the insults well and the two of them ended up fighting; a fight that didn’t end until Enzo punched Conti and he stumbled back and hit his head on the edge of a fireplace.
“At the time he was fine,” Enzo said. “He lost consciousness for a little bit and then he got up again. Didn’t even bleed. Fabrizio and my sister walked in not long after, and it kind of seemed like… like everything was okay. Conti promised that so long as I didn’t push him into more furniture, he would leave Lia alone. We kind of laughed about it as we left…”
Enzo shifted his legs over the edge of the bed. He put his face in his hands and the rest of his tale came out half-muffled.
The problem wasn’t solved, as it turned out. Conti died less than two days later from his injury, and Enzo spent a week in utter misery. He expected that, at any time, the police would come around and arrest him for killing the man, but it never happened. Instead, he had a visit from Fabrizio Aiello, the only one apart from Rosalia who knew about the fight.
“He said there was no reason to go to the police with that sad affair. It would be a scandal of some magnitude if I was outed as a murderer, so Fabrizio wanted to make a deal. He wanted Lia to marry him, and… he wanted that painting, the van der Ast. It was to be given to him on the day of his and Lia’s engagement party and it had to be in front of all the other men who wanted my sister as well.”
Gina stood up and got off the bed.
“So that’s where the deadline comes from,” she said, observing him carefully.
Enzo nodded. “If I don’t get the painting, he’ll turn me in to the police. Initially, I refused and I planned on confessing. Getting it out of the world, but… Lia begged me not to. Said… said she already lost part of her family when my mother and brother left and she couldn’t lose me as well. So I agreed.”
Gina looked at him with her head tilted. The gist of it, she thought, was true, but there were a few flaws to the story. Most importantly, there was the fact that she couldn’t in a million years imagine restrained, mild-mannered Enzo getting into a fight. It had taken him days to finally snap at her for insulting him, so the story frankly didn’t add up. This, however, she didn’t mention, because she expected he would explain it away. Instead, she settled on another issue:
“You said you only need the painting for a while, though.”
Enzo sighed. “That was to get you to help me. I figured that if only Fabrizio had the painting for a few weeks, it wouldn’t matter if you stole it and gave it to your other client.”
“That’s a ridiculous plan, Enzo. Say I take the painting back and pass it on to Ms. Antonini, how long do you think it’ll take for him to trace it to me—and then you? And even if that doesn’t happen, he won’t stop demanding things. Once he has the painting and your sister, what’s next?”
“I know,” he said, grasping big handfuls of his hair and tugging on it in frustration. “I know, but what can I do?”
“Being honest is a good start,” Gina said. She went to kneel in front of him. “And now you leave the rest to me and the Good Guys. Let’s get the painting for now and buy you some time with this asshole. Once that’s done, we take him down.”
He lifted his head and blinked at her. Gina stood. After a few moments of looking at her in confusion, he followed her to her feet. His eyes were so blue, looking down at her, so blue and full of gratefulness.
“I only hired you to get the painting. You owe me nothing besides that,” he said.
“You kind of saved my ass yesterday,” she said. “If I had punched Doriano, I’d have fucked myself. Considering how I’ve treated to you so far, you didn’t actually have any reason to help me.”
“Like I said, I never wished you ill.”
“I don’t wish you ill, either. Let me help.”
Enzo’s eyes radiated uncharacteristic warmth. Then, even more uncharacteristically, he hugged her.
“Thank you,” he said, his breath tickling her bare shoulder.
He smelled the same as he had eight years ago. The same almond soap and detergent, only now it was mixed with a spicy cologne. It reminded her that the rich boy she met back then was all grown up. Gina hugged him back in spite of herself.
She would have to finish this job, she thought, and quickly.
Author’s note: I’m leaving this without comments. I’m really tired and sort of grumpy, and if I write much I’ll just be complaining about all things I’m unhappy with in these pictures. Let’s not get into all that negativity. This is as it is, so I hope you guys enjoyed it and I’ll be seeing you for the next post 🙂